The best gaming keyboard for you is a matter of taste; while there are decks in each category that are objectively the best in class, which keyboard suits you comes down to some stark preferences. Do you prefer mechanical switches or membranes? If you want a mechanical keyboard, should you get something with Cherry MX switches or something proprietary from another manufacturer, are you looking for switches that are clicky, tactile, and loud, or keys that are smooth and whisper quiet with virtually no feedback?
Regardless of the which switches you settle on, there are also a host of other, minor details to consider. A small variance in actuation weight (the amount of force in grams required to depress a key) can make the difference between a keyboard that feels substantial and one that feels cheap and hollow, especially when paired with an unfamiliar key height. Tactile feedback can make typing more pleasant and reactive, while it may not be ideal for gaming where quick reactions are king. But worry not, we've broken out some of the best gaming keyboards in each category and in a pinch, any of them is a strong option regardless of need. Meanwhile, if you need something to play on your new keyboard, take a peek at our best PC games and put that shiny new deck to work.
So what’s the difference between gaming keyboards and why should you care?
A keyboard is a keyboard, right? Well, it all depends on what kind of typing sensation you’re after, what functionality you need and how much money you’ve got to spend. If you picked up DOTA 2 on your MacBook and want a similar sensation for desktop sessions, you probably want a 'chiclet' keyboard, which is characterized by membrane switches (round rubber domes) and low-profile keys. A good chiclet keyboard is quiet and responsive, though perhaps not quite as precise or durable as its big brother, the 'mechanical' keyboard.
Rather than one keyboard-wide membrane, mechanical keyboards use per-key mechanical switches, which consist of a plunger, spring and electrical contacts. Mechanical keyboards above a certain price point typically use 'Cherry MX' switches, which are manufactured by the eponymous Cherry corporation. Razer, Logitech and others also make their own proprietary mechanical switches, but Cherry MX switches are considered the gold standard. If you want full-height keys, are a stickler for consistency and/or want typing to be an engaging physical sensation, you probably want a mechanical keyboard.
1. Corsair K70 LUX
Our top pick gaming keyboard to complete your arsenal
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Red LED | Programmable keys: All | Features: Cherry MX Brown mechanical switches, supports Windows 7+
Corsair’s K70 LUX mechanical keyboard is our top pick for an all-purpose gaming keyboard, provided you’ve got a PC and the funds. It features Cherry MX Brown switches that deliver excellent tactile feedback with an audible click without being jarring or distracting the way some stiffer switches are, perfect for both typing or vaulting around the Crucible maps in Destiny 2. The keys are backlit by a stylish, slightly ominous red, which can be set to various intensities and to glow behind every key or just a subset of ‘home’ keys.
Every key is assignable via the Corsair Utility Engine suite making for a keyboard that is definitively your own in both form and function. There are also dedicated media controls and an onboard USB passthrough port, which effectively moves an existing USB port from your PC to your keyboard, rather than providing an additional port.
From where we sit, the only major downsides are the price, and the fact that there’s no OSX version of Corsair Utility Engine. The keyboard also requires two separate USB connections if you’re hooking it up through USB 2.0 ports, which is a little weird and inconvenient but not a deal breaker by any stretch.
2. HyperX Alloy Elite
Hits the sweet spot between functionality and luxury perks
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Red LED | Programmable keys: None | Features: Cherry MX Brown, Blue, or Red mechanical switches, supports Windows 7+
The HyperX Alloy Elite represents a perfect sweet spot between sturdy functionality and luxury perks. It’s sturdy construction and steel frame will endure the clumsiest drops or most furious tosses, and its spacious design allows for the comfortable spacing of each key. It feels like a luxury item, with a pleasant weight and obvious durability, but adorned with a bar of media controls and additional option keys that give it the feel of a high priced car’s over-stuffed electronic dashboard. But these keys are all essential, obviating the need for additional software.
Unfortunately, the lack of software also means that the keys aren’t individually programmable. On the other hand, the Alloy Elite offers an increasingly rare option to choose from a range of Cherry switches, either the aforementioned tactile, medium-click Browns, the linear, quiet Reds, or the stiffer, clickier Blues. For gaming purposes, Reds or Browns are probably the choice here, because the force required for Blues can be a bit much when you need immediate, lightning-quick response time, but the trio of options is a welcome blessing anyway you cut it.
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3. Razer BlackWidow Chroma
The best Mac gaming keyboard
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Customizable RGB | Programmable keys: All | Features: 5 dedicated macro keys, Razer Mechanical Green switches, supports Windows 7+ and OSX 10.8 – 10.11
For the OSX diehard that also takes pride in their Steam collection, Razer’s BlackWidow Chroma is the best on the block. In addition to a full keyboard layout, the BlackWidow Chroma also features five dedicated macro buttons within WASD distance, which adds a layer of utility not found in the Corsair K70 family.
As one would expect from a keyboard this expensive, every key (and its corresponding RGB LED) is user assignable to an impressive degree, thanks to Razer’s Synapse customization software. If you’ve got other compatible Chroma peripherals, Synapse will also coordinate color patterns across all attached products, turning your battlestation into your own little slice of Tron.
Feel-wise, the BlackWidow Chroma uses Razer’s proprietary “Green” class of mechanical switches, which are roughly analogous to Cherry MX Blues. This means that Razer Green switches are both clicky and tactile, which translates to an audible clack and perceptible bump with every press of a key. There is also a Chroma “Stealth” version of the BlackWidow, which employs Razer’s quieter Orange switches, though it can be a bit tougher to find than its clicky sibling.
The BlackWidow Chroma one-ups the K70 again with its passthrough ports, which touts audio out and microphone in, in addition to USB. The only downside here is that these ports are placed on the right side of the keyboard, which, depending on the size of your desk and your handedness, may crowd your mouse zone with additional cabling.
Beyond that, there’s not much to dislike about the BlackWidow Chroma. Razer also produces some that sacrifice keys, colors or both to save cost, should everything here sound great except for the price.
4. Corsair Gaming K95 RGB
When you absolutely must have a button for everything
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Customizable RGB | Programmable keys: All | Features: 18 dedicated macro keys, Cherry MX Red mechanical switches, supports Windows 7+
For the MMO maverick that wants it all and wants it right now, nothing provides faster access to abilities and macros than Corsair’s K95 RGB gaming keyboard. The K95 RGB takes almost everything great about the K70 RGB Rapidfire and slaps 18 dedicated macro keys on the left-hand side, which can be be used to trigger up to 108 macros.
Beyond that, the K95 features all the same bells and whistles as the K70 RGB Rapidfire, save for the passthrough USB port, which has gone missing. For a keyboard that costs this much though, we’d expect to not lose any features present on cheaper models in the same series.
There’s another slight difference, though whether it’s good or bad is a matter of personal preference. The K95 uses Cherry MX Red switches, rather than the Cherry MX Speed units found on the K70 RGB Rapidfire. Reds have a slightly taller actuation point than Speed switches, and have a slightly longer travel distance, though both require the same amount of force to actuate. Does this mean that MX Red switches are slower or more laborious to use than MX Speed switches? In practice, not really. Reds and Speeds are different, but that difference is measured in tenths of a millimeter. Both types are non-tactile, non-clicky switches and either makes for an excellent keyboard.
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5. Logitech G910 Orion Spectrum
The best-looking, highly-functioned keyboard - at a price
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Customizable RGB | Programmable keys: None | Features: Proprietary Romer-G switches, nine macro buttons, brilliant backlighting
Easily one of the best looking mechanical keyboards on the market, the Orion Spectrum is also feels like one of the most highly and precisely engineered. It starts with Logitech’s proprietary Romer-G switches, available as either linear or tactile, which have one of the shortest throws in this class and feel smooth and responsive in either configuration. Then there’s the intense, sharp backlighting of the keys, available in 16.9 million colors, projected by a centered backlight through a Swiss-crafted lens beneath each key.
The Spectrum also comes with a suite of add-ons that may appeal to some gamers but are largely gimmicky and, at the moment, under-supported, like their Arx Control second screen functionality that lets you view information from specific games while you play. What are quite handy, however, are the generous nine macro buttons, tastefully arrayed around the left and top edges of the board, and robust anti-ghosting protection to ensure you never lose keystrokes.
6. Razer Ornata Chroma
The best keyboard for 'feel' thanks to mech and membrane tech
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Customizable RGB | Programmable keys: All | Features: Mecha-membrane keys, wrist rest, fully programmable keys
Combo-ing up membrane and mechanical keyboard tech, this Razer offering is a brilliantly tactile experience. The mid height keys might not be to everyone’s taste but every key press is satisfying and it’s a slick offering that’s ideal for everyday office use before descending into gaming at night. The noise might kill everyone else in the room - although it’s been likened here to rain on a window pane - but it’s exceptionally gratifying and individual keypresses are intuitive and clear.
Once again, you can alter the individually programmable backlit keys using Razer’s Synapse app and the Ornata happily works with both PCs and Macs. So whether you want a fire flickering under your fingertips or to set up specific game profiles, it’s all within reach.
Plus, the fake leather wrist rest is exceptionally comfortable to use especially for intense hours of WASD positioning and it’s magnetic so all you’ll need to do is lift it away if you’re not a fan. Intuitive, stylish and satisfying at a great price, this is easily one of our best gaming keyboards.
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7. SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL
Compact and specialized for the eSports professional or hobbyist
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Per-key RGB | Programmable keys: All | Features: Linear QX2 mechanical switches, supports Windows 7+ and OSX 10.8+
At its core, SteelSeries’ latest offering is an incredibly solid board, sturdy aluminum construction with competitive switches, and the embarrassment of perks pushes it over the top.
The SteelSeries Apex M750 TKL is the slimmed down version of the full bodied M750, with the numpad trimmed off the edge to maximize desk space for mousepads or other office accoutrement. It also fits more comfortably in your lap for lazy browsing or those who pipe their PCs through their TVs and game on the couch. While it’s designed to cater to eSports professionals (and ambitious amateurs), it’s also an all around sturdy, high performing board with a gorgeous design and very satisfying proprietary switches.
The M750 also boasts a package of the most intuitive but most robust pack-in software available. Alongside the standard SteelSeries Engine, it comes with a programmable lighting app called ImageSync that allows for a host of lighting and reactive typing effects, as well as suites of specialized lighting for games like CS: GO and Dota 2. It even has real-time lighting notification options for Discord.
A genuinely unique keyboard with some great features at a fantastic price
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: Per-key RGB | Programmable keys: All | Features: Proprietary mechanical switches, per key RGB lighting, vintage style keycaps, supports Windows 7+ and OSX 10.8+
1STPLAYER's Steampunk keyboard may not look particularly steampunk at a glance, but you'll forgive any thematic shortcoming the first time you get your fingers on its pleasantly rounded, semi-tacky feeling keycaps. The proprietary switches are clicky and lightly tactile (somewhere between Cherry Blues and Browns) and typing with it is a joy, but not so heavily weighted they impede gaming.
The RBG lighting is more subtle than on similar keyboards, lighting the plastic switch cases in something akin to watercolor shades. As someone who's not interested in a neon blitz every time I sit down to type or game it's a welcome change. The Steampunk is one of the few keyboards I've used for any extended period of time without feeling like I needed to disable the lighting because it was drawing my eyes away from the screen. While the keycaps feel a bit small under larger fingers, they're not so slim you'll be accidentally striking other keys, and at a sub-$40 price point the Steampunk feels like a lot of keyboard for very little cash.
8. Cougar Ultimus
Our top budget pick - low price, high quality
Interface: Wired USB | Keyboard backlighting: 14 presets and customizable | Programmable keys: F1 - F4 | Features: Proprietary mechanical switches, dedicated shortcuts and media controls, steel construction
The Ultimus makes a strong first impression. Right out of the box, it's solid, weighty exposed steel structure feels durable and substantial in your hands, and its sleek understated design accentuates that sturdy construction. It feels like a significant object in a way that so many cheap, hollow plastic keyboards don’t. It’s mechanical keys feel springy and responsive, and while they’re not the most impressive switches on the market, they provide satisfying tactile feedback.
The Ultimus really shines when you deploy its impressive range of RGB lighting. The 14 backlighting effects range from subtle, a steady glow under the keys, to exotic, like its racing waves or the pulse of rain. The effects are all customizable, meaning if you don’t like one of the presets you can tailor your own to suit your own aesthetic palette. Handy features like shortcut keys and n-key rollover add to a solid outing from Cougar that proves they may be ready to compete with the big boys.
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